1940s, Blu Ray, CLASSIC, Classic Hollywood, Coleen Gray, crime drama, cult, film, FILM HISTORY, FILM NOIR, Fox, genre, New York City, review, reviews, Richard Widmark, thriller, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Twilight Time, Twilight Time Blu Ray, Uncategorized, Victor Mature

KISS OF DEATH (Twilight Time Blu Ray)

KISS OF DEATH. (Twilight Time Blu Ray) 20th Century Fox 1947. B&W. 99 minutes. Region Free. $29.95 .Limited to pressing of 3,000 discs. https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/kiss-of-death-blu-ray/

People who have never seen the complete film know of it due to the iconic scene of a giggling insane Tommy Udo (essayed by Richard Widmark in his stunning film debut) pushing a helpless wheelchair bound woman (Mildred Dunnock) down a flight of stairs as she screams in abject horror.

 

KISS OF DEATH is a classic example of film noir that needs to be in every film lovers collection. Dark storytelling with the sense that violence and death permeates the entire story. Shot mostly in New York City at many actual locations (though, in my humble opinion, I think the interior apartment scenes and stairwells are sets, as knowing the size of the old Mitchell 35mm cameras, as well as lights needed, that is a heck of a lot of equipment and people to squeeze into such small spaces, not to mention loading in and out). around the city.

Ex con Nick Bianco (Victor Mature, at the height of his stardom) and three others botch a jewel robbery that results in Nick getting arrested.

Rather than turn on his accomplices, Nick is sentenced to twenty years at Sing Sing Prison. Nick thinks that his accomplices will protect his family, but three years into his stretch, Nick’s wife commits suicide and his two daughters are sent to an orphanage. Nick tries to make a deal with the Assistant D.A. D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) but too much time has passed to make a deal. However, if Nick will help the A.D.A. on another case, Nick will get paroled.

 

 

 

On the streets, Tommy Udo(Widmark)who served time with Nick, tracks down the mother of Rizzo. Rizzo, who is unseen in the film, was supposed to guard Mrs. Bianco, but instead it was hinted that he raped her, which resulted in her committing suicide. Tommy looks up to Nick (and many critics feel an almost homoerotic passion) and so when Rizzo’s mother (Dunnock) lies to him, we end up with the famous stairwell killing.

Udo tries to show off to Bianco, taking him to various establishments and talks freely about his previous crimes, to impress his “friend”. Nick, however, turns the info over to the Assistant District Attorney, who indicts Udo and grants Nick his pardon.

Nick tries to restart his life on the straight and narrow, marrying friend Nettie Cavallo (Coleen Gray ) who used to baby sit his daughters when he first went to prison. However, despite evidence, Udo is acquitted and wants revenge.

The film when it was first released was not an enormous success, but over the years its status has grown to where it is now acknowledged as one of the great film noirs of all time.

The film has been available on video and DVD in previous releases from Fox Video, but TWILIGHT TIME has really gone all out with its definitive release of this classic piece of cinema.

First off, the 1080p High Definition scan has increased the sharpness of the imagery, showing off the beautiful cinematography of Norbert Brodine. Brodine began working in the silent era (including Lon Chaney’s A BLIND BARGAIN, Goldwyn,1922), and during the early sound period he hopped around from major studios to independents (Bela Lugosi’s THE DEATH KISS, KBS,1932; DELUGE, Tiffany 1933) before finding a home at Hal Roach (TOPPER ,1937; OF MICE & MEN,1939; ONE MILLION B.C.,1939).

By the mid-1940s, he went over to Fox, where he had prior to KISS OF DEATH had lensed the noirish HOUSE ON 92nd STREET (1945).and the overlooked gem SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946). His black and white photography has deep blacks and various shades of gray.

The sound is mono (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) and there is really no need for surround sound, as the music dialogue and sound effects are crisp and crackle free. David Buttolph’s music is sparse but always efficient when used.

As to extras:

There are two audio commentary tracks that are well worth listening to.

Original to this release are popular Twilight Time Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, who have a more conversational style and while knowledgeable, still have the joy of fans.

Kirgo, for example, points out that she grew up in NYC and recalls how it looked somewhat as the film presented it. They also go into the homoerotic feelings that Widmark’s character may have had for Mature (“Ya can’t have fun with dames about”).and how Widmark originally thought the script hilarious (!) and read the script to friends in the voice he used in the movie. It made me wonder if the erotic undertone was added by Widmark, similar to  what Stephen Boyd did years later to Charlton Heston in BEN HUR (MGM,1959).

Ported over from the prior Fox Film Noir series DVD release is the Audio Commentary with Film Historians James Ursini and Alain Silver has a more scholarly tone but never monotonic while delivering so much information on the making of the film and behind the scenes going ons (for example, Miss Dunnock had to be flung down the stairs TWICE because the cameraman was not ready!). They also discuss the (loose )1995 remake.

The music score is also available on a separate audio track. The trailer features legendary columnist Walter Winchell praising the film with hyperbole that must have made the publicity team go crazy about. The optional white English subtitles are clean and easy to read, and follow the dialogue and action.

Get it and add it to your collection or Tommy may have to visit you!

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Kevin G Shinnick

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BOSTON STRANGLER/PRETTY POISON Twilight Time Blu Rays

2-coversTHE BOSTON STRANGLER ( 1968 Fox)116min        http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/boston-strangler-the-blu-ray             / PRETTY POISON (1968 Fox)89min         http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/pretty-poison-blu-ray/Twilight Time Blu Rays      $29.95 each Limited to 3000 pressings each

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1968 was a banner year for movies: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY(MGM), OLIVER(Columbia), ROMEO & JULIET(Paramount), ROSEMARY’S BABY (Paramount), PLANET OF THE APES(Fox). Among those films were two marvelous murder thrillers, both from 20th Century Fox, one a box office and critical success (BOSTON STRANGLER) the other a box office failure that has developed a strong cult following that continues to grow (PRETTY POISON).600full-the-boston-strangler-poster

First, we have THE BOSTON STRANGLER.

 

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THE BOSTON STRANGLER was a big budget ($4.1 million) film released October 16,1968. Critical reaction was mixed for director Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA(Disney,1954) and his then daring split screen and multiple images to show various points of views at the same time (also used in GRAND PRIX (MGM,1966) as well as THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (U.A.,1968)). There was a more unanimous consensus of praise for Tony Curtis and his daring and solid performance as split personality Albert DeSalvo. Curtis won a Golden Globe for Best Actor, which must have been thrilling for him, considering that he was not considered able to play the role, but had to win the role by taking photos of himself in makeup and having director Fleischer slip them to the studio head, who said that was the type that they were looking for!

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                                                                   (old VHS  print from Key Video)

 

Based upon Gerold Frank’s best-selling well researched non -fiction book of the same title (Hardcover, New American Library,1966), there was difficulty in finding the right screenplay adapter. The original choice, Playwright Terrence Rattigan who wrote stage plays like THE WINSLOW BOY(London,1946) was a friend of producer Robert Fryer. However, the screenplay that he turned into a comedy! Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and writer Edward Anhalt (winner of an Oscar for the adaptation he co-wrote with his wife Edna for PANIC IN THE STREETS (Fox ,1950) produced a script that was more faithful in feeling to the Gerald Frank book.

 

Henry Fonda portrays John S Bottomly, who leads the investigation into a series of Strangle Murders in Boston. The police get so desperate they even resort to a Psychic to aide them. The killings continue unabated until plumber Albert DeSalvo is apprehended for attempted breaking and entering. A series of incidents and clues lead them to believe that DeSalvo is killer whom they have been seeking.fg11295-the-boston-strangler
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Tony Curtis is superb playing the family man who has a dual life and even a dual personality. The fractured screen shots and isolated images also perfectly encapsulate the isolation and separation that DeSalvo seemed to be suffering from. That he was not nominated for an Academy Award (the best actor award going to Cliff Robertson for portraying another person suffering from mental problems in CHARLY (Cinerama,1968)) is one of the major shames in the whole award process mentality, as he gives a superlative performance.reel-vs-real

Besides Fonda, other great performances are given by George Kennedy (a year after his best supporting actor Oscar win for COOL HAND LUKE(WB,1967)) and Murray Hamilton (who had performed on stage with Fonda, but is perhaps best known as playing the Mayor in JAWS(Universal,1975)as two of the detectives who piece together the various bits of evidence, as well as various members of law enforcement and society being portrayed by William Marshall(BLACULA,AIP,1972),Sally Kellerman (MASH,Fox,1970),Hurt Hatfield (forever Dorian in THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY,MGM 1945),Jeff Corey (SECONDS,Paramount,1966),James Brolin (still a struggling contract player at Fox at the time before rising to fame as a T.V. heartthrob on MARCUS WELBY,M.D.(Universal,1969-1976) ,and many more .wm-marshall

William Marshall

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(William Hickey as a suspect )

 

 

 

 

The 1080P transfer Region Free transfer is sharp and clean. Audio is an optional 2.0 or 3.0 DTS-HD Master. There are optional English (SDH)subtitles.

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Extras on the Blu Ray reviewed include:

-An isolated music and sound effect track. The score by Lionel Newman (COMPULSION, Fox, 1959) is effective, but, to me, not memorable on its own.boston-strangler-2

-An informative and nonstop Audio Commentary with Film Historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros that covers both the production history of the film as well its cinematic style, as well as a lot of information about the actual murders, the doubts that exists that if DeSavlo was the killer of all the victims, and where the film deviates from the facts of the case.e284dd9161031cb9263860acc4bf01ef

– “Real Killer, Fake Nose”- is over a half hour long documentary about the making of the film, and how innovative its cinematography and editing was for the time. Interviews include Sally Kellerman (who plays one of the victims) and Mark Fleischer (the director’s son) and D.P. Richard H Kline.9208-2284hqdefault

– “Split Screen Personality” -has director William Friedkin (THE FRENCH CONNECTION,Fox 1971) discuss the real-life events and the film, plus how the film influenced his style.f7242f42ecf78b86b83c9636bd8

-Original Theatrical Trailers (approximately 4 minutes)tony

-An 8-page booklet by Julie Kirgo about the film

Two extras ported over from the Fox 2004 DVD release are

– “AMC Backstory: The Boston Strangler”- a nice overview of the film made for The American Movie Classics channel when it was still about movies.

A Fox Movietone News clip (roughly 3 ½ minutes) from the era about Albert DeSalvo.desalvo

Like Most of Twilight Times releases, this is limited to a print run of 3000.boston_strangler_mug_shot

Highly recommended.

 

***********************************************************************************************************

Next we have PRETTY POISON.
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PRETTY POISON was and is a quirky little thriller that failed to find an audience when first released. The screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr (fresh from T.V.’s BATMAN (Fox,1966-68)) is a fairly faithful adaptation of the short novel “She Let Him Continue “by Stephen Geller (first edition: Hardcover E.P. Dutton,1966), save for a reduction of the pill taking so prevalent in the book.e-p-dutton-1st-edition-1966hardcover

 

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            (note,this paperback edition says filming for EMBASSY PICTURES!)

 

Director Noel Black had only had a short film released by U.A. before he was given his feature film debut. He had seen Tony Perkins on Broadway, and thought he would be perfect for the part of Dennis Pitts, a young man who had killed his aunt when he set fire to their home when he was 15. So, sure that Perkins was right for the role, that Black waited at Perkins’ request until the play closed before filming began.6ku

Dennis Pitts, after his release, is stuck in a dead-end job at a local chemical company. To break up the monotony, he thinks of young Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld, who had been acting since age 13 in ROCK ROCK ROCK (DCA,1956)). Weld was a perfect choice for this role of the young innocent who it turns out is not as innocent as she first appears.s-l225

Dennis tells Sue Ann that he is secretly a CIA operative spying on the factory for dumping chemicals into the river. His harmless fantasies however fuel an amoral side to Sue Ann, who becomes the dominant partner in both sex, wanton destruction, and finally murder, starting with her mother (Beverly Garland, star of many Roger Corman 1950s films).sddefault

Weld supposedly hated her director, and would often refuse to do as he asked or would break down in tears. Perkins had no such problem with Black, and the finished film was affected by the behind the scenes dramas. Weld & Perkins would work together again in PLAY IT AS IT LAYS (Universal,1971), another wonderful film that was also a box office failure.prettypoison_toppage

Though not hired with it in mind, it is hard to escape the idea that this is a variant of Norman Bates for Perkins. Indeed, parts of it could be a template for PSYCHO II (Universal ,1983). The film also seems to me to be a precursor of Terrence Malik’s BADLANDS (WB,1973), albeit with a darker sense of humor than that latter film.

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Shot over 30 days on location in Massachusetts, with only an additional day of studio work, the film was brought in for a 1.3-million-dollar budget.dolce-veleno-italian-poster-by-enzo-nistri

Sadly,1968 was a year when random gun violence was on the rise, with the murders of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr happening earlier. The studio, which didn’t seem to have much faith in the finished film, dumped it into 42nd Street double bills. However, when Pauline Kael and Rex Reed championed it, the studio gave it a more halfhearted art-house release, again with little support.nxcgmsszzyldoylqfq4dhklhxil

Director Noel Black never seemed to have ever gotten the chance to ever match this film. Several aborted projects, some barely released (MIRRORS,1978, First American Films), and a lot of tv work.

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His biggest theatrical success was the teen sex comedy PRIVATE SCHOOL(Universal,1983). Towards the end of his life, Anthony Perkins tried in vein to get Noel Black as director for PSYCHO IV, which eventually was directed by Mick Garris from an awful Joseph Stefano script (Universal TV,1990).

 

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It was only when PRETTY POISON began showings on t.v. in a heavily edited edition that a wider group of people began to discover the movie. A rather bland vhs release and a no frills 2006 DVD from Fox (the region 2 DVD at least had a commentary by director Black) were also both released without fanfare.

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TWILIGHT TIME, once again, has gone all out on bringing this gem to the attention of the movie loving public, and what a wonderful job that they have done.

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First, we have the beautiful 1080p High Definition transfer. The magnificent cinematography by
David Quaid (whose previous work varied from SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS(Embassy,1964) to THE SWIMMER(Columbia,1968)) gets a proper framing and clean sharp images.

The original mono sound can be heard in crisp 1.0 DTS-HD MA, with optional English SDH subtitles.

As for extras:
At this point (January ,2017), I think of those who worked on PRETTY POISON, only producer Lawrence Turman (age 90!) is still with us. Turman’s latest production was the 2011 remake of THE THING(Universal), so we are lucky that TWILIGHT TIME could get him for the audio commentary. With him are film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman. The trio keep up a lively commentary.

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Also included is the audio commentary from the 2004 region 2 DVD. This has director Noel Black and film historian Robert Fischer discussing the history and tribulations of the film,

Johnny Mandel’s music and the films effects sound track are given an isolated sound track on the disc. Mandel’s score strikes the right balance between a thriller and a romance.

Optional English Subtitles are also available.

Julie Kirgo once again supplies an informative 8-page booklet about the film.

The BluRay sleeve is reversible with a stylized drawing of Perkins & Weld.

Also included is the audio commentary from the 2006 region 2 DVD. This has director Noel Black and film historian Robert Fischer discussing the history and tribulations of the film,

An interesting extra is a text script scene that was deleted that has commentary by Black and Fischer.

This TWILIGHT TIME release is limited to only 3,000 units.

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Once again, I must say, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. I may just have to save time at this rate and say TWILIGHT TIME -HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for all future reviews.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

1996

(Did I mention the 1996 remake?I didn’t? Good, because it was pretty bad.) 

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Tony Rome & Lady in Cement (Fox) (TWILIGHT TIME BLU RAY)

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Tony Rome & Lady in Cement (Fox) (BLU RAY) original release Nov 10,1967 and November 20,1968 respectively. Blu Ray. Region Free. August 16,2016. Twilight Time. (color) Rated M (now PG). 203 MINUTES. $29.95. Limited to 3,000 print run.

http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/tony-rome-lady-in-cement/

I must admit that I am not a person who is blown away by Frank Sinatra. I know it is nearly blasphemous for anyone who lives next to Hoboken, NJ (Ol’ Blue Eyes birthplace) to admit this. There was always something about him that I just found off putting.

However, as I have gotten older, I am discovering what an amazing natural actor. His performance in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (U.A., October 24,1962) is superb, and he holds his own in this classic political thriller. Sinatra also shows strong acting chops and his own strong persona works in his favor in these two Tony Rome stories, as well as the unrelated THE DETECTIVE (20th Century Fox, May 28,1968), not included in this release. The three films were released previously in nice but frill free DVDs from Fox.tonyromeposter

Sinatra had a certain no-nonsense style and weariness when he played detectives, ending with THE FIRST DEADLY SIN (Filmways, October 3,1980), which was also his final starring role in a film. He turned down the role of Dirty Harry due to fibromatosis crippling his hand. It’s interesting to think of how he might have played the part. Another bit of trivia: thee was a sequel written to THE DETECTIVE written by its author Richard Thorp in 1979. It was called NOTHING LASTS FOREVER (W.W. Norton & Co.,1979). Sinatra turned down the idea of the sequel when it was broached to him. It was finally made in 1988 as a film starring Bruce Willis (who had an uncredited bit in THE FIRST DEADLY SIN) called DIE HARD (Fox, July 20,1988).

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• Now TWILIGHT TIME has given TONY ROME and LADY IN CEMENT a marvelous 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 single disc Blu Ray release.

Tony Rome is an ex Miami cop who has seen it all. He now spends as much time as he can on his boat, making money by doing private detective work. His ex-partner Ralph (Robert J. Wilke,an actor who was best known for appearing in westerns, having appeared in films since 1936.He was one of the outlaws from HIGH NOON ( U.A. July 24,1952)) asks Rome to escort a young woman, Diana Pines (Sue Lyons ,the original LOLITA(MGM,June 13,1962) home after she was left passed out in a hotel room.

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Her father, Rudolph Kostleman (Simon Oakland, best known as Vincenzo, the boss of Kolchak from T.V.’s THE NIGHT STALKER (ABC, January11,1972) is a powerful rich man who is worried about his daughter. She has been acting strangely of late, and he hires Rome to find out why. Diana and her stepmom Rita (Gena Rowlands, soon to win a well-deserved Oscar nom for her star turn in A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (Cine-Source, November 18,1974) also hire Rome to fins a missing piece of jewelry.bt2ee7ymrwhpsd81c3vbxhemjxn6q

Rome ends up getting beaten up, a murder takes place, and Rita is almost killed as well. Can Rome solve the case, and perhaps end up with the lovely Ann Archer (Jill St. John, who had appeared previously with Sinatra in the comedy COME BLOW YOUR HORN (Paramount, June 5,1963))?

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TONY ROME was based upon the novel MIAMI MAYHEM by Marvin H Albert (New York: Pocket Books, 1960.). Screenwriter Richard L. Breen (Oscar winner for his screenplay for the 1953 TITANIC (Fox, April 11,1953)) did a faithful adaptation of the story, with all its little twists and turns.

Director Gordon Douglas was a former child actor who could jump genres with a straightforward no nonsense style (THEM, WB, June 19,1954; STAGECOACH, Fox, June 15,1966; SKULLDUGGERY, Universal, March 6,1970). Obviously, he and Sinatra got along, as he directed TONY ROME, LADY IN CEMENT, as well as THE DETECTIVE.

Extras for this feature include an audio commentary by film historians Lee Pfeiffer, Scarlet friend Paul Scrabo and Anthony Latino. The three keep up a fact filled dialogue about the film as well as director Gordon Douglas (who had directed Sinatra in the comedy ROBIN & THE 7 HOODS (WB, June 24,1964) as well as Sinatra’s film career. They drop little tidbits as that Sinatra was performing at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach at night, and that they used it as a location during the day. That hotel still exists, but it seems many of the other locales are gone.

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The original sound track is available to hear on an isolated music and sound effects track. Composer Billy May had worked with Sinatra since his album, COME FLY WITH ME (January 6,1958, Capitol Records), and the soundtrack has that reflects that brassy sound. Daughter Nancy Sinatra sings the title song.

The original Theatrical Trailer is also an extra.

Sadly, some of the behind the scenes documentaries shot at the time are not added as extras, perhaps due to legal reasons or poor source material. They are available to see on YOUTUBE:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-AS1OT-aQA with Shecky Greene, who plays Catleg in the film, is a behind the scene look at filming. Shecky was a comic who played a lot of club circuits.

Also, a brief b&w silent sequence exists:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gr8RoJYxCxw

By the way, future LAND OF THE GIANTS (Fox,1968-1970) star Deanna Lund, who appears on the poster, was so embarrassed by her role that she asked for her name to be removed from the credits.

TONY ROME was successful enough for the studio to make a sequel a year later.

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LADY IN CEMENT was based upon Marvin H Albert’s second Tony Rome novel (LADY IN CEMENT, Robert Hale, London, 1961. hard cover) was adapted for the screen by Albert and Jack Guss (this seems to be his only theatrical screenplay, working mostly on television shows like DANIEL BOONE (1964-1970, Arcola/NBC. Arcola was one of the producers of the Tony Rome films, so that may be how he connected to the project. Indeed 70 minutes into LADY IN CEMENT, you see DANIEL BOONE playing on a hotel T.V. set.).

Sadly, this film is a big drop in quality from the previous film. While sexism was more to the forefront of the detective films of the period, LADY IN CEMENT seems to revel in it as well as strong homophobia. The film manages to be sleazier yet less interesting than the first film.

In this one, Rome(Sinatra) and a police man friend go diving from Rome’s boat looking for treasure. What Rome finds is a dead nude blonde woman (Christine Todd, of whom this seems to be her only film appearance) underwater, her feet encased in cement.img_20161115_092137img_20161115_092039img_20161115_091942

He alerts the authorities and think his involvement is done. However, a big ex con Waldo Gronsky (Dan Blocker, best known as “Hoss” for T.V.’ s BONANZA (NBC FILMS,1959-1972)*) wants to hire Rome to find Sandra Lomax, who happens to be the dead woman .Gronsky is a likeable lug, and the plot at times echoes FAREWELL MY LOVELY by Raymond Chandler (Alfred A. Knopf ,1940). Indeed, Blocker is one of the best things in the film, and makes the film worth watching until the end.mqdefault

Also in the film is tough guy Richard Conte (returning from TONY ROME as Police Lt. Dave Santini),Richard Deacon (known from T.V.’s DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, Sheldon Leonard Productions,1961-66)as a pervy artist, singer actress Lanie Kazan as a stripper who ends up dead after talking to Rome , and the main reason people remember this film, Raquel Welch. Welch was now an international sex symbol, due to her appearances in FANTASTIC VOYAGE and ONE MILLION YEARS BC (both Fox,1966). Here, she is given little to do but look beautiful, which she does.suq6tbvtza9r9dgjh2wmcugwrro

The soundtrack by Hugo Montenegro (best known for scoring such shows as THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY(Paramount,1970-74), to put it mildly, is grating and repetitive of the level of elevator music ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ywuJh19U5w) and distracts from the action rather than moving it along.

The film just kind of lurches along until the ending with the actors trying gamely to make something of it. The budget was estimated to be about $3,500,000(a bit more than the previous film) and had mixed reviews and middling box office. Due to that, a third Tony Rome novel MY KIND OF GAME (New York, N.Y.: Dell, 1962) remains unfilmed.

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The only extra for LADY is the original theatrical trailer.

TWILIGHT TIME’s BLU RAY does a superb job with the two films. TONY ROME looks a bit sharper, with LADY IN CEMENT appearing a bit grainier. The sound is superb and hiss free. Once again, Twilight Time’s subtitles are clear and follow the action precisely.

Julie Kirgo once again provides nice info in a small enclosed booklet ,illustrated with some fine photos and posters .lady-in-cement2

Limited to only a 3,000 disc printings, I would recommend it mostly because of TONY ROME to fans of hard boiled detectives and Sinatra fans.

Kevin G Shinnick

*Another in -joke, they have BONANZA ‘s opening playing on T.V. with Dan Blocker watching. Indeed, both films are full of in jokes.lady-in-cement-movie-poster-1968-1020206873

Please like and share SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE reviews on Facebook and WordPress.If you order items reviewed by us, let them know that SCARLET sent you.-kgs-

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THE SPIDER (1931)

the-spiderTHE SPIDER (Fox Film Corporation, released September 27,1931) b&w. 59 minutes.  $15.00  DVD-R from 16mm print offered by John Carpenter. Contact him via email at pixthatmove@gmail.com .

THE SPIDER is a film that deserves to be better known. Released after DRACULA (Universal, February 12,1931) but before FRANKENSTEIN (Universal, November 21,1931), this film, while in the end a murder mystery, has several strong supernatural elements.thespidertc

The film was co-directed by Kenneth MacKenna and William Cameron Menzies. MacKenna was an actor who also directed several mostly forgettable films between 1931-1934. mackennaMacKenna, born Leo Mielziner, Jr, is today mostly remembered for sponsoring and helping his brother Jo Mielziner (Tony and Academy Award winning set designer). He also was an early “angel” (theatrical financial backer) who introduced his friend Richard Rodgers to the James A. Michener’s book “Tales of The South Pacific” (MacMillian, NY,1947), feeling it might make a good musical. He was right. It became the 1949 musical SOUTH PACIFIC (Majestic Theatre, April 7,1949).tales_of_the_south_pacific_michener

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The real visual director of THE SPIDER would be Menzies. Menzies entered films in 1919, after his service in WWI. Training in effects and 004_thiefstaircasefilm design, within a few short years he was the art director and production designer of classics like THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (United Artists, March 18,1924). Pictured above his sketch and the fully realized design in the film. He is perhaps best known for his design of GONE WITH THE WIND (MGM, December 15,1939). Not only did he design the look of the film, he even designed some of the famous shots like the massive pullback shot at the train station.

He also later directed the 3D horror film THE MAZE (Allied Artists, July 26,1953) and the classic science fiction film INVADERS OF MARS (20th Century Fox, April 22,1953). He was a visual stylist who made the most of his budgets, big or small.

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(Menzies ,as photographed by Karl Strauss)

 

The screenplay was written by Barry Conners. Conners was a former stage actor who was blacklisted when he tried to unionize actors against corrupt producers.barry-conners He turned to playwriting and had a few Broadway successes, including HELL’S BELLS (Wallack’s Theatre, Jan 26, 1925 – May 1925)which was the Broadway debut of both Humphrey Bogart and Shirley Booth.

He used his success to become a screenwriter for MGM and then Fox Films (later to merge and become 20TH Century Fox). Among his screenplays were an adaptation of his play THE PATSY (MGM,April 22,1928 ). At Fox, he exhibited a strong ability with mysteries, writing the screen adaptation of several of the early Charlie Chan films (including two “lost “Chan films (…Carries On, (Fox, April 12,1931), …. Chance (Fox, Jan 24,1932), as well as THE BLACK CAMEL (June 21,1931).

 

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Later, he would be one of a team of writers who adapted the radio series into CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (Fox, August 4,1932), another mystical adventure directed by Menzies and best known for starring Bela Lugosi as the villain Roxor. Starring as Chandu was Edmund Lowe. Lowe had already gotten his magical bona fides, starring in THE SPIDER as the film’s star, magician Chatrand. Lowe had begun in vaudeville before getting into silent films. When sound began, his good looks and voice established him as a reliable leading man in the thirties and forties, right up to THE STRANGE MR. GREGORY (Monogram, Jan 12,1946), wherein he starred as—a magician!!!!mv5bytu5yzhkogitngewns00yjy4ltk0nzgtmdqxyzc4zjg2mju0xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzi2mdewna-_v1_

THE SPIDER was adapted from a stage play by Lowell Brentano and Fulton Oursler that played Broadway at Chanin’s 46th St Theatre (3/22/1927- 5/28/1927) before moving to the Music Box Theatre (5/30/1927-12/17/1927) for a successful run of 319 performances. THE SPIDER: A Play of The Varieties, to give it its full title, was a three act Mystery Melodrama. The setting was the fictional Tivoli Vaudeville Theatre, where the action takes place. The play starred Broadway actor john-halliday(John Halliday )

John Halliday as Chatrand, and featured a lot of vaudeville performers Mack & La Rue, billed as The Skating Marvels of The Century, and Lytell & Fant, listed, intriguingly as The Chocolate Cake -Eaters.0002334_spider_the_300

Oddly, the play had several lawsuits brought against it for plagiarism, one of which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1933 before it was dismissed.

Writer Brentano worked on Broadway writing thrillers as well as musicals, including the intriguing thriller ZEPPELIN (National Theatre, Jan14,1929-March ,1929), set aboard the cabins of the air vessel. He also worked in Hollywood on films like THE PENGUIN POOL MURDER (RKO December 9,1932).

 

 

 

Fulton Oursler was a magician who wrote for several pulp magazines. He joined Harry Houdini in discrediting fake mediums in the 1920s, going so far as to write an expose Spirit Mediums Exposed (New Metropolitan Fiction) under the pseudonym Samri Frikell. fulton_oursler_magicianoursler-a-spirit-mediums-exposed

After converting to Catholicism in the 1940s, he wrote THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (Doubleday,1949). It was later adapted into the 1965 movie by the same name.

The film of THE SPIDER obviously cut the play down to its barest storyline, as a three-act play would have run at least 90 minutes. With many of the within the show vaudeville routines cut, time was filled by adding the comedy of Elmer Goodfellow Brendel, better known as El Brendel. Born to an Irish mother & German father who entered vaudeville as a German dialect comic but when anti-German sentiments grew during WWI, he became a simple Swede, often named Ollie, Oley, or Ole.

He began working in films, appearing in the classic silent WINGS (Famous Players/Paramount, August 12,1927). After a brief return to vaudeville, he signed a contract with Fox Studios, taking advantage of the innovation of sound movies. His biggest starring role was in the musical/science fiction film JUST IMAGINE (Fox, November 23,1930). He was billed as the most popular comedian at the time but he soon was reduced to supporting roles and starring in B-comedies. To be honest, to modern audiences, a little El Brendel goes a long way. However, it was probably thought getting El Brendel for THE SPIDER was a good idea at the time.39

The film takes place in the Tivoli Vaudeville House, where the Great Chatrand (Edmund Lowe) is packing them in. Chartrand’s show is being broadcast, and he announces that assistant whom he calls Alexander (Howard Phillips, making his film debut. He only made 11 more films up to 1938, none of which was as good as THE SPIDER. ) is an amnesiac whom he found two years earlier. However, he seems to have lost his memory but developed psychic mind reading powers which they use in the act.vlcsnap-763909

Beverly Lane (Lois Moran, who is said to have been the inspiration for the character “Rosemary “in  F.Scott Fitzgerald’s TENDER IS THE NIGHT (Charles Scribner’s Sons, April 1934 ) has been looking for her brother Paul who disappeared about the same time ,but her uncle John Carrington (Earle Foxe ,who began in silent films back in 1912.He had starred in an odd silent fantasy feature LAST MAN ON EARTH (Fox, November 2,1924) as well as the lost early talkie THE GHOST TALKS (Fox, February 24,1929 ) says it is only a publicity stunt and that it cannot possibly be Paul. However, she insists that they go to see the next performance and Carrington begrudgingly agrees.mv5bngq4nwi4ngitngyyos00mdnllwfly2mtmznindm3n2mymzfmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtq2mjqyndc-_v1_

During all this, we have comedy where Ole (El Brendel) and his young charge (Kendall McComas, who started in the silent Mickey McGuire comedy shorts and in 1932 appeared in some of the Our Gang comedy shorts) are considering what type of tickets to purchase. The ticket taker, by the way, is a cameo by co director MacKenna. When they finally do, and go to their seats, it ends with El Brendel putting a hole through the top of his bowler.48

Chatrand peers through the curtains and recognizes Beverly from a photo that Alexander has. The act begins, and Alexander is blindfolded as Chatrand walks though the audience and holds up various objects. When Chatrand holds up Beverly’s locket, which is like the one Alexander has, Carrington begins to try and take it away from Chatrand. The lights go out, and a someone shoots Carrington. The staging of this scene is quite well done, with rapid cutting between all the parties, and Alexander acting as if possessed, finally ending with the shooting, and Alexander collapsing.vlcsnap-763749

The police arrive and find a gun by the unconscious Alexander. Beverly recognizes Alexander as her lost brother. Now revived and out of his trance, Alexander/Paul blurts out: ‘He tried to kill me! I had to do it.” That’s all the police need to hear, and arrest Alexander. Chatrand escapes via a magic trick, and the police seal off the theatre. No one can leave. Can Chatrand, with his magic skills, find out who the killer is?72

The film moves along at a good pace, and it is a fun movie worthy of rediscovery. The highlight of the film is towards the end during a superbly staged séance sequence.32

The movie is a rarity, and as far as I know, it has not aired on any television stations for decades (indeed, there is hardly anything about it on the Turner Classic Movies site), and it is a shame.img259

It is a short, fast paced little thriller with supernatural elements that deserves to be better known.

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(announced but unmade version)

John Carpenter (no not the director, but this one is known as “The Movie Man” due to his extensive movie collection) is offering a special deal to SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE readers .The sound and picture quality is good, especially when you consider how truly are this film is . John will make a DVD-R of this rare film from his own 16mm print. Cost $15.00 within the continental U.S.A. Contact John directly at pixthatmove@gmail.com . Let him know that SCARLET sent ya!img258

Recommended.
-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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